The days leading up to Monday night's Met Gala, which celebrated the museum's "China: Through the Looking Glass" exhibition, have caused me much anxiety. There are so many ways to sartorially interpret a Chinese theme — the culture, the people and a long, rich and sometimes tumultuous history — and so many ways, frankly, to fuck it up. Maybe because I am Chinese American, I'm extra sensitive to cultural appropriation and negative, outdated or just incorrect stereotypes that can easily be perpetuated through a red carpet outfit.
After my rant with Cheryl about the preponderance of extreme winged eyeliner on the Met Gala red carpet, I was ready to take on the clothes, which actually weren't nearly as offensive as I feared they would be. While some gala-goers decided to totally ignore the theme (as they're wont to do), others managed to pay homage to Chinese culture and design without looking inappropriately costume-y. Props to Taraji P. Henson (Cookie Lyon forever) in Balenciaga, Zhang Ziyi in Carolina Herrera, Emily Blunt in Prada and all hail Queen Rihanna, whose royal yellow mega cape-gown is by an actual Chinese designer, Guo Pei.
But, I do have a few bones to pick about last night.
Dakota Johnson's "Chinese" Face Chanel Bag
At first glance, Johnson looks fantastic (fine, there's the extreme-extreme winged eyeliner, but I've said my piece). The Chanel haute couture mini-dress is inspired, age-appropriate and fun and the shoes, perfect. Then — screeching halt noise — that "China doll" bag. The blunt bangs, the round face, the rosy cheeks and monolids are so pronounced that the poor doll can't even open its eyes, apparently. Because a Chinese girl can't have big round eyes, huh? It's like the haute couture version of a politically incorrect Barbie doll.
Sexualized Traditional Chinese Dresses
The traditional qipao (pronounced chee-pow in Mandarin) or cheongsam (pronounced as it looks, in the Cantonese dialect) originated in the '20s and were favored by society ladies in Shanghai. Nowadays, the qipao is probably only worn as a second dress at more traditional Chinese weddings. My big beef with the sexed up version of a qipao is that it perpetuates the stereotype that Chinese women are "exotic," subservient sluts.
IT'S NOT EVEN CHINESE.
If you're going to go with the Chinese theme, make sure the reference is actually Chinese and not from another Asian culture. We're not all interchangeable. It's like wearing German lederhosen to a French-themed event. Lady Gaga's custom Balenciaga looks like a hybrid of a Japanese kimono and Korean hanbok, albeit with a much lower neckline. (Everyone from the New York Times to The Hollywood Reporter is casually lauding Gaga's "kimono"-style dress, even though, again, China-themed event.) Same goes for Georgia May Jagger's Gucci. While it's a good dress (which Alyssa acknowledged), it definitely references a kimono more strongly than it does anything Chinese. Even Net-a-Porter thinks so, writing "British model @georgiamayjagger brought the#METGala to life in a kimono inspired @Gucci gown" on Instagram. I mean, these people are confusing countries that have been at war. (More than once.)
That's it, I'm done now. Should we go back to talking about how Kim stole Bey's 2012 Met Gala look?